Many people I know consider themselves to be perfectionists. When asked to describe this self-assertion, they often reply that doing something right the first time inadvertently leads to not having to repeat it.

The perfectly worded phrase, the precise execution of (fill-in-the-blank), or the diligent adherence to established protocols. If it is worth doing, they reason, it is worth doing correctly. And I get this reasoning. I really do — for I am no exception.

What vs. How

But what they will not (or cannot) tell you is that perfectionism, by its very nature, is less concerned with what is being done and more concerned with how it is being done. It fosters an altruistic mindset and creates a dichotomy between that which is perfect and that which is imperfect. There simply is no middle ground; and therein lies the danger.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life… “ — Anne Lamott, Author

I recently asked a student of mine why they were so frustrated after their performance of particular monologue. She dejectedly replied that she felt “off,” that her recitation was just that — a recitation. She was unable to connect the dots and she felt that she had not only let her audience down, but herself as well. To her, it was less than she expected. It was not up to par. It was not perfect.

Perfectly Imperfect

I think it is safe to say that nobody would disagree with the statement that we are imperfect creatures. We try, we fail, we learn. That is the process. No shortcuts. No passing GO. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on the horse. If we recognize this, then why do our expectations so often exceed our limitations?

A good actor or speaker need not fear something that is less than perfect — rather, they should embrace it. It is one of the qualities that make us distinctly human. Theatre, film and television scripts are built around the premise of human failure for it is conflict and imperfection within a character’s life which drives the dramatic action and without it there can be no story. Without it, we are unable to truly connect with our audiences.